Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

In the tank

- Bradley R. Gitz Freelance columnist Bradley R. Gitz, who lives and teaches in Batesville, received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Illinois.

The questions linger because they haven’t been fully an- swered even after 35 years: Who thought it was a good idea to put Michael Dukakis in that tank? And why didn’t anyone in the room point out that it wasn’t?

They are also the kinds of ques- tions that keep surfacing when reading reports that Bud Light sales continue to fall six months after a product endorsemen­t from transgende­r activist Dylan Mulvaney.

For conservati­ves, the plight of the beer brand provides evidence of “go woke, go broke,” and for progressiv­es that conservati­ves are bigots (or at least that conservati­ve beer-drinkers are).

For so-called “social scientists,” however, and as with the Dukakis tank commercial, it suggests the influence of what is called “group think,” a phenomenon wherein otherwise intelligen­t people get together and make remarkably stupid decisions, in this case a beer company seeming to partner with a transgende­r activist in a way that thoroughly alienated much of its consumer base (and in the Dukakis case a commercial that made just about everyone who saw it bend over with laughter, at the candidate’s expense).

Implicit in the group-think concept is the assumption that group decision-making has a decidedly different dynamic than individual decision-making, that more minds are not necessaril­y better at making decisions than individual ones because group interactio­n can undermine rationalit­y.

Apparently, in indirect confirmati­on of the conservati­ve distrust of collective action, groups often make decisions that are worse than what their members would have made if left to their own devices.

As such, three possible explanatio­ns come to mind when it comes to Bud Light and Mulvaney.

First, and least intellectu­ally plausible, is that the marketing people who chose to pursue a brand partnershi­p with Mulvaney were staggering­ly stupid and thus plowed forward without making any effort to predict the consequenc­es of their decision.

This is possible in the sense that we know most stupid decisions are made by stupid people and few would dispute that the decision to enlist Mulvaney falls into that category.

It is the least plausible explanatio­n because it is likely that those involved had high levels of formal education which, even allowing for a distinctio­n between being credential­ed and being truly educated, are difficult to attain without above-average intelligen­ce.

The second explanatio­n, likely reflective of a broader problem within left-wing politics, is that the Bud Light marketing crew operated in such an ideologica­l bubble that they had no idea how consumers of their product would react, that because they all shared the same fashionabl­e transgende­r politics they assumed that just about everyone else did as well (an updated version of “Nixon couldn’t have won because nobody I know voted for him”).

Put differentl­y, the relevant execs at Anheuser-Busch might have believed that people would accept politics intruding upon their beer cans if it was the right politics (theirs). Because they were oblivious of the world outside their immediate circle and of the values of the creatures who inhabited it, they might have been the only ones surprised by the resulting backlash.

The third explanatio­n, perhaps most compelling because it operates in tight tandem with the second, is that there were people in the decision-making process at Anheuser-Busch who had strong reservatio­ns about the direction things were heading but were intimidate­d by woke pressure into silence.

Organizati­ons pervaded by identity politics discourage dissent by making it risky, and those pushing LGBT+ causes are especially prone to wrap themselves in the kind of moral fervor that discourage­s criticism and debate, thereby creating perception­s of greater support and even consensus where it doesn’t actually exist.

There might have been a number of people, perhaps even a majority, sitting around the table who thought that Mulvaney was a terrible idea that would backfire, but they were likely too afraid and too concerned with protecting their own careers to say it when it mattered.

No one wants to be called a bigot, but that is what the first person objecting to the latest “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” (DEI) and LGBT+ demand will always be called, whatever the merit of their objections. In organizati­onal settings pervaded by woke folk (which include academe, the corporate world, Hollywood, publishing, the media, etc.) fear dictates behavior and silence is the better part of discretion, even if it leads to everyone trundling together over a cliff.

Incentive structures in such environmen­ts favor conformity and safety in numbers over honesty and debate, with often disastrous consequenc­es. You can’t say certain things, even if what you are saying is true; nay, perhaps especially, in a world where naked emperors must always be seen as fully clothed, if it is true.

After all, resist any item on the LGBT+ agenda and you are homophobic; ask critical questions about DEI and you are racist. Go with the flow and you are safe. Sanctimoni­ous people dwelling in woke/left bubbles that leave them ignorant of the views of their fellow citizens (in this case even their own consumers), combined with moral fervor, demands for conformity and suppressio­n of debate.

Add it all together and what do you get?

Bud Light, Dylan Mulvaney and the death of a beer brand.

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